Pianist, composer, iconoclast, and jazz icon Thelonious Sphere Monk has inspired generations of music fans and musicians alike. His indelible compositions are among the most beloved in the jazz pantheon. To commemorate Monk's centennial, explore the "High Priest of Bebop" in this curated exhibit.
Monk disciples Randy Weston and Barry Harris, and producer Orrin Keepnews speak to his “unusual” style and approach to piano and jazz in a clip from the award-winning Masters of American Music series.
One of Monk’s better-known eccentricities was his dancing—right in the middle of a song, he'd stand up off the piano bench and break into dance on the bandstand, often while a horn player was soloing.
In fact, Monk (and his dancing) may have started the hip “strolling,” piano-less trio format, later popularized by Sonny Rollins. Here's Rollins talking about Monk, animated by Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Another of Monk's eccentricities was how he talked – or rather, mumbled – as seen in this clip from his 1968 'Underground' sessions, with famed Columbia Records producer Teo Macero (see: Miles Davis).
In 1956, Thelonious Monk recorded "Pannonica" for Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter. Said Monk: "I think her father gave her that name after a butterfly he tried to catch."
In a talk with The Wall Street Journal, Thelonious Monk III (Monk's son) discusses the encouragement and financial support Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter rendered to Monk and other jazz artists.
In a pre-concert talk, producer Orrin Keepnews asked Charlie Rouse to share “some words about Monk." The conversation was included as the opening track to Rouse's album 'Epistrophy.'
Here’s the 2007 lineup (with vibraphonist Stefon Harris filling in for Bobby Hutcherson on the tour) performing Thelonious Monk’s “Oska T.”
Monk’s ties to S.F. go way back. In 1959, producer Orrin Keepnews asked Monk to record a live, solo album on his Riverside label, but with a catch: it would be recorded without an audience present.
Monk must’ve dug his stay in S.F., as he penned “San Francisco Holiday” and recorded it live at S.F.'s Blackhawk jazz club in 1960. Here's Miguel Zenón's arrangement from the Collective's 2007 tour.
Since the 1988 Charlie Rouse concert, SFJAZZ has presented many Monk-themed concerts. One that stands out is Jason Moran's “In My Mind" co-commissioned by SFJAZZ in 2007, here documented by NPR Music.
Jason Moran's "In My Mind" used footage documented from W. Eugene Smith's "The Jazz Loft," a dilapidated New York loft building where Monk rehearsed for his famous Town Hall concert.
Another SFJAZZ & Monk moment... Dave Chappelle' performed Monk's signature ballad 'Round Midnight on piano at the 2011 SFJAZZ Gala, with "help" from pianist, Director of Education Rebeca Mauleón.
Monk's Birthday, 10/10, has become a holiday (“San Francisco Holiday”) at the SFJAZZ Center. In recent years, pianists Fred Hersch, Barry Harris and Eric Reed have all played 10/10 at SFJAZZ.
Special thanks to the William Gottlieb Photo Archive, SFJAZZ Collective, Masters of American Music series, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Columbia Records, The Wall Street Journal, Orrin Keepnews & the Keenpews family, NPR Music's Jazz Night In America, Jason Moran, YouTube Movies, The Jazz Loft Project, and SFJAZZ Director of Education Rebeca Mauleón.